How (Af)fluent Are You In Your Customer's Language? Online content is growing exponentially, and it is no more static on websites

By Vivekanand Pani

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"You are not your user."

I came across this quote a long time ago when I was browsing the Internet. This resonated with me powerfully for two reasons: Firstly, in order for a business to survive, it needs to understand its users. Secondly (and more importantly), in order for a business to sustain and thrive, the users have to understand it.

Today, businesses are increasingly getting digital. Banking, travel, entertainment, purchase of goods or services–everything has moved online.

While most online businesses have effectively strategized two-way communication to English-speaking audience, there is still a huge digital disconnect when it comes to local-language customers.

India has more than 250 million online users, and the Internet is now more consumer-centric than ever. So far, English has been the prominent language used across online consumer markets. However, the English-literacy rate in India is only 10%, and the Internet usage is becoming increasingly high among local-language consumers.

Leading enterprises with a prominent online presence in India have already realised this gap and are working towards bridging it by localising their offerings. They are also gradually realising the benefits of localisation: deeper market penetration, vaster customer base, and higher customer satisfaction and retention.

In consumer economies like India, where traditional connect is as essential as the product itself, language localisation creates cultural comfort by enabling higher customer engagement and user relevance.

The Internet is rapidly becoming the default source of information for most of India's population. By narrowing the language disconnect, companies stand to gain by moulding consumer patterns and ensuring penetration in new markets.

When companies offer local language services, more customers are empowered to use multiple functions. For example, we at Reverie, have found that more than 50% of buyers online will buy more if the service is offered in a language they are familiar with. This is a win-win strategy for all stakeholders.

While language solutions are rapidly advancing in technology, it is still a relatively new area for the Indian Internet. The benefits do not come without challenges.

For the longest time, the Internet was a collection of websites that had only fixed content. Extending it to different languages meant engaging translators to translate and display content in required languages. It is not possible to get a uniform translation from two different translators, and at times, even from the same translator.

Online content is growing exponentially, and it is no more static on websites. Making it available in multiple languages needs an approach that is scalable and reliable. Manual translation is inconsistent and not scalable. It also adds to the overhead cost.

The rapidly evolving automated or machine translation technology is the answer to these hurdles.

In machine translation, the primary challenge of conversion is to identify what part of content to translate and what to leave untranslated. For example, consider this statement: "Flower's statement raised sensations." In this context, Flower is a person and must not be translated. A machine conversion approach must understand or request for enough information to get context so that the conversion is meaningful.

While computing is "calculation," languages are not. Hence, language computing is a science for an art. So, approaches that rely on pure computing can hit a roadblock before it can be usable.

While developing solutions for local-language users, enterprises should also remember that these users are not as familiar with the Internet landscape as the English-language users. Therefore, empowering these local-language users with an intuitive user experience is as important as providing advanced language technologies with a high-level of accuracy in their outputs.

With the Internet of Things on the rise, previously unimagined possibilities and relevant technologies keep arising every few seconds. This means, in about five years' time, marketing and catering to customers would be completely revolutionised. Businesses will be able to offer the right items to the right people at the right time—cash in language solutions, and you might as well add—in the right language.

Vivekanand Pani

Co-founder and CTO, Reverie

Vivekanand Pani is Co-founder and CTO, Reverie Language Technologies. Before starting up, Pani was has also worked with C-DAC. At Reverie, he heads the multi-lingual platform Language as a Service, which helps enterprises launch a full suite of multi-lingual versions of their services.

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